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Marking one year of being a joke

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I am not a great reader of the game or outstanding appraiser of players. I don't have any clout or inside connections ready to leak juicy rumors to me. At best, I've got some words I can turn handily, a decent memory for where we've been in the past, and a passion - dinged up as it is now, insane as it's always been - for American soccer, and American club soccer in particular. Beginning with the Metros.

So when I began this blog a little more than a year ago with this humble post, I didn't have much in the way of a great vision for it, except for this - to chronicle, describe, criticize and have a little fun with the Metrostars' endless journey towards becoming a quality team, a championship team, a team we long suffering fans can be legitimately proud of, come what may - so that in our travels here and abroad we could eventually tell people "yeah, my team is the Metro and I've been there since the beginning. Soy de Metro, de Metro soy yo..." and get a little respect, if nothing else. It could mean something, if we all stuck together; I had some faith in that.

You laugh, and point to ten years of Metro fiascos, like it was something to be proud of at all. Keep dreaming, you naive Metrologist.

Then I'll argue that ten years is in fact nothing much in the big picture of sports, and even 96-05 came with a lot of good times. Knowing full well that all of us are cheering for someone else's business at heart, as a diehard soccer fan who wants something just a little more authentic and rooted, the timeframe I'm operating on is that of decades, not seasons. For every Chelsea that shoots to global prominence and profitability when a speculator drops in and starts buying it trophies, there is a Middlesborough going almost 130 years before winning its first major trophy, or a Yeovil Town FC that goes over 110 years before even making it into the Football League(!) to cite but two examples. This is soccer reality to me, as much as any glitzy cup final. And somewhat perversely, I like it like that.

The point isn't to glorify mediocrity and stumbling around the nether reaches of the leagues for decades. No one wants that. It's to glorify the resilience and endurance of soccer fans through all the shit, a resilience that gets built into symbols like names and badges, and how they mean something to a place, a group of fans, no matter what the results might be. That's enabled people in many places to follow the same team their ancestors, actual or just locally-speaking, did. That enables the 90% of supporters around the world who aren't following G-14 teams to feel like they're not totally wasting their time. And that stability and continuity is worth something you just can't count.

Winning, in fact, isn't everything and isn't worth getting into bed with anyone for - the thought that some fans think an MLS championship - MLS, for chrissakes! - is so important that it justifies hocking the whole shebang of your team's identity is just amazing to me. Winning is the goal, for sure. It catalyzes us as fans. But simply being there, in the same recognizable form and in the same place is every bit as important. It's where real tradition is forged over time, and THAT, not ticket giveaways or aged, expensive world superstars from the right immigrant demo, is what gets people coming back time after time, year after year.

But Metrologist, you say, such nice examples are useless here. Soccer just means something different in the rest of the world, and especially in places like England. It's engrained in their culture and their traditions.

Well, exactly. And you want club soccer to be somewhat "cultural" here too, dontcha?
I do. I'm a big fan of the sports that are part of our culture already. But soccer...that is just something different, and I'd like us to have a piece of that here, too. If it takes till I'm old and gray.

It may not be in the cards, sociologically speaking. I've done quite a lot of studying and thinking about it (if it's not apparent by now that the Metrologist is hopelessly shuttered up somewhere in the world of higher education, it should be) and I've gradually concluded it's possible the United States simply isn't set up for it at this point in time. There may not be the room or the inclination in the US soccer world for an idealized club soccer culture to grow. It could be that US soccer will grow nicely, as long as we acquiesce to naming some clubs after the highest bidding multinational lifestyle-oriented conglomerate, and branding others after the Great and Good Clubs of Real World Soccer - Arsenal Colorado, Real Salt Lake, DC Chelsea United, Columbuselona. PMLS = Post Modern League Soccer. The signs point in that direction. It could be our destiny.

So be it. The "product" (and I loathe, loathe, loathe that term) on the field will probably improve. But if that's the case, I can't see much reason for us hardy few to go on acting like fervent, loyal, do-anything-for-our-club-because-it's-repping-us supporters. Why do anything much more than buy my ticket now and then (if I don't feel like watching the Mets/Yankees/Devils/Nets/Knicks, etc., since I "support" them equally), sit in my seat and take in the show? Anything more would be foolish - you can't express your team spirit when there's no spirit inside to be found. Who can scream out Red Bull songs with a straight face? Unintentional self-parody at its worst.

Today, March 9 2007, marks the one year anniversary of the conversion of Metro into the Red Bulls, and this string of discussions is its legacy - the magic candles flickering on the taurine-soaked birthday cake. They always re-ignite. They still vastly overshadow the actual job of supporting this team. They always will, until the last of the dyed-in-the-wool Metro traditionalists give up and find something else to do. Make a wish!

Personally, I don't like spending too much of my precious time in negative ways, and the older I get, the even less so. It's the flipside of my tendency to criticize and play devils advocate; too much of that, and it sucks the life out of you. Who wants to waste time beating this further into the ground? So there's been less and less posted here (you might have noticed.) The US soccer blog landscape has really grown since I started here, in line with big things going on in the sport here, but I've had less and less time for it. I've taken less and less interest in the things like playoff matchups and draft coverage, and planned on spending less and less money. My link to this team, if not severed, is stuck in a state of limbo. As someone who was, and should still be, pretty evangelical about MLS, I now have to force myself to care as often as not. That's not good.

What today also marks is the the ticking-over of the worst year of being a Metro fan ever. While the organization itself has been jarred, and I don't think anyone can say for the better overall (more on that in a coming post), I think what remains of the already-tortured diehard Metro crowd has only been further alienated, divided, and turned against one another. I've been a part of that, on a personal level, more than I'd like to admit. What used to be a pretty cooperative community, especially online at least on the surface, now has serious lines drawn through it.

Hypercaffeinated bickering among the desperate remnants like this isn't pretty and certainly not productive. Yet again, another reason for those like me to drift off instead, or for prospective fans to wonder "why would I want to bother?" It's somewhat reminiscent of a scene I saw once at a Fiorentina match I attended in the late 90's; Napoli arrived for a spring match already sure to be relegated, its ragtag, dejected-looking traveling fans barely filling up a third of the fenced-in visitors section at the Artemio Franchi. The Napoli fans quickly got down to the business of beating the shit out of each other, and by the time Fiorentina was coasting with a 2 or 3 goal lead, the Napoli fans were stretched out over the stands, taking in the glorious afternoon sun rather than bothering with the shambles on the field. A similar sort of Lord Of The Flies scenario doesn't bode well for any resurgence of real Metro - or RB, for that matter - support. The question is, do those running the show even want it?

Over the next few days I'll look at some of the substantial problems RBNY has ahead of it. What isn't working now and why I don't think it can ever work - not as anything other than an ersatz soccer product with their name all over it (maybe that can justify their investment, but who wants to watch that? Not me.) It won't be a cheery or particularly enjoyable analysis. But it's not particularly enjoyable to go through this as a fan. Who knows why we do it? We slog on - for the time being - in the hopes that this joke finally stops being told, or else it's so damn successful that someone decides to take a chance on another NY-area team that isn't such a sham.

Happy Birthday, Red Bull New York. May there be very, very few more for you.

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